With my 30th birthday fast approaching (well, approaching as in I just turned 29), it’s hard not to think about time.
The time you’ve had, the time you’re having, and the amount of time you have left in the future.
And at the tender age of 29, I can only imagine how much one thinks about time when they’re 40, 50, and even sixty.
Because I remember when I was 18, and 22, and all the other ages I was before I became “conscious,” which, to me, represents the moment I realized that I wasn’t immortal and that my life-path was up to me and me alone. Success wasn’t guaranteed. I was 25.
Every year prior to that paradigm-shifting moment, I lived my life on impulse and emotion. I was unaware of the passage of time in that I didn’t realize how nonrenewable it was. I was going to live forever (obviously), so who cared if I dicked around for a year or five?
But then it dawned on my that my time was finite. I didn’t have an infinite amount to spend on the achievement of my goals and finding the life I wanted. One of fulfillment and value.
But now, one year away from a new decade, the march of time becomes increasingly apparent. Did I maximize my 20s? Am I moving forward into my 30s in the direction I want? Will I ever do everything I want in life before it’s all over?
The answer, of course, is “who knows?”
Time stops for no one, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it (yet). So, instead of trying to overcome the never ending anxiety that washes over your body when you think about your own mortality, it’s time to focus on maximizing the time you have.
The first step is to understand that your fear and anxiety will never go away. They’ll ebb and flow, but they’ll always be around in one for or another. Call it an evolutionary trait. The desire for personal survival above almost all else.
When I first started dealing with the anxiety of a fleeting life, it would keep me up at night and rule my thoughts in the day-to-day. It would literally cause me to be less productive because I'd get caught in a negative thought loop and forget to start the laundry or respond to that email.
I couldn’t help it. I’m going to be 30, I’d think, how can I stay in my 20s forever?
There’s still so much I want to do! I expected to be a world famous (insert dream of the moment here) by the age of 25 and travel the world as a young prophet. And here I am on the precipice of a new decade and no one’s yet kissed my feet!
Well, I soon came to the hard realization that these aspirations of a young twenty-something weren’t going to happen. I had to deal with it.
And then it dawned on me that time would never stop. It’s been moving for 14 billion years and should move for another 14 billion, all things equal. Why would it care about my measly 100 years?
Humans are amazing in that we can think and wonder and plan and dream. We ponder the infinite wonders of the universe and try to figure out our place within the massive fold. However, our “place” might just be that we’re here, we experience, and then we’re here no more. It’s the never-ending cycle.
Which means that we can’t worry about time and the anxiety it causes. It’ll never stop, and we’re hardwired to always want to live, so it’s natural we worry about our nonrenewable resource. It’ll never stop.
So learn to live with your emotions. Rather than fighting it, accept it.
Remember that “Life isn’t a problem to solve but a reality to experience.” You can’t stop time, but you can try to have the best time possible with the amount you have.
Here’s where it get’s tricky. You’ve accepted the fact that time will never stop. You’ve even accepted the fact that it’ll always cause you some level of anxiety and fear.
Now’s the time to use your own mortality as a positive constraint. Seek to maximize your daily experiences.
However, we humans are caught between the desire to throw caution into the wind and live in the moment, and at the same time, plan for a safe and stable future.
We have short-term goals and long-term goals, and often times, one contradicts the other. I want to travel to Australia tomorrow, for example. But if I do, I’d have to quit my job and lose out on financial security and a growing 401(k).
And it’s a valid concern. An unstable future can result in regret and a negative life down the line. But, too much focus on the future also leads to regret when you get to the end and you think about all you should’ve done in your youth.
But there’s no reason we can’t balance both. In fact, if we want to maximize life, we need both.
For me, whenever I feel most “alive,” or when I feel the most fulfilled, it’s when I’m doing fun things in the day-to-day and also working toward a long-term goal. So, in order to maximize the time you have, you need to be present-minded and also long-term focused.
You can plan a long weekend getaway backpacking around the U.S. National Parks and still work a job that is fulfilling and saves for your retirement.
You can plan to quit your job and travel around Europe and then spend the next 18 months saving money and preparing. If you’re worried about your 401(k), for example, save six month’s of travel expenses over the first year, and then spend the next six months doubling-down on your retirement contribution so that when you quit in July, you’ll already have saved for the year.
The point is that you have to live! L-I-V-E live.
But, in order to live a fulfilling life, you have to create one that takes advantage of the fleeting moment and also hedges your life bet by preparing for an uncertain future.
Don’t forget to say “yes” to that crazy weekend or that impromptu invite to visit a cousin in another state. This is the act of experiencing life. But don’t forget to set and work toward long-term goals, either. This is the act of giving your life purpose.
Hell, I don’t know, do you?
I’m reminded of Alan Watts. According to him, the point of life is to experience it. Case closed. The Universe, he says, is everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. We’re made up of matter that’s been created, destroyed, and made again, and in both a scientific and mystic sense, he’s right.
There will never be anyone ever like you again. The way in which you view the world and the way in which you experience will never happen again. Your perspective is unique, and it’s therefore your duty to perceive as much as you can while you still can.
But, of course, you still need those pesky long-term goals. It’s ok to strive for a better life. Just remember to live in the moment as you push toward the future.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. “The only way a tadpole can turn into a frog is to live everyday happy as a tadpole.”
Be happy, fellow tadpoles.